Tag Archives: traffic

Graton may be next stop for Occidental wastewater 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The plan will be informally introduced at a town hall meeting held by west county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins in April or early May, officials said.

Guerneville is out and Graton is now in as a potential destination for Occidental’s wastewater.

What may sound like west county musical chairs is actually the latest chapter in a 20-year effort to find an alternative for Occidental’s wastewater treatment plant, which has been under state orders since 1997 to quit discharging treated effluent into Dutch Bill Creek, a Russian River tributary and coho salmon spawning stream.

A plan to send five to 15 truckloads of untreated wastewater a day up Bohemian Highway to Guerneville was scrapped in response to protests from Guerneville residents, and officials are now considering delivery to Graton, where the local community services district has issued what amounts to an invitation.

“We’re taking a look at what might be a better option,” said Ann DuBay of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which operates the Occidental and Guerneville treatment systems and six others in the county.

Engineers are working out the details of the Occidental-to-Graton transfer between two small, rural communities, with a recommendation expected to go to the Board of Supervisors in the fall, said Cordel Stillman, the Water Agency’s deputy chief engineer.

Read more at: Graton may be next stop for Occidental wastewater | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

River residents castigate county over Occidental sewage trucking

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Public comment on the project’s environmental document, called the Initial Study and Negative Declaration, will be accepted through this Friday, Feb. 24, said Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman Ann DuBay. After the deadline, water agency staffers will look at the comments and determine whether the environmental review has been adequate or needs more work. “It could take a few months” before the environmental review is complete, said DuBay.

A full house of concerned river residents admonished the Sonoma County Water Agency last week over plans to truck the town of Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal.Her neighborhood is “prepared to do anything necessary to stop this absurd idea,” said Guerneville resident Susan Packer, who owns vacation rental property adjacent to the transfer site.

With Occidental’s sewage set to be trucked daily to a pumping station on Riverside Drive, where ongoing problems include odors and recent collection system overflows during Russian River flooding, “you certainly can’t handle any increase,” in sewage coming into the pump station, said Packer.Neighbors organized as the West Guernewood Action Group agree the transfer project is “incompatible and ill-considered” and are talking to an attorney, Noreen Evans, to represent them in opposition to the project, said Packer.

The united crowd of more than 100 people packed into the Monte Rio Community Center last week had little good to say about the project that would help the town of Occidental meet a state-imposed deadline to bring its sewage disposal methods up to code and avoid fines that could hit $10,000 per day. Occidental’s compliance deadline is Jan 1., 2018, said Sonoma County Water Agency Deputy Chief Engineer Cordel Stillman.

“We know there are some issues” with trucking the town’s sewage to Guernewood Park, where it would then be piped under the Russian River to the Russian River Sanitation District’s sewage treatment plant on Neeley Road, said Stillman at last week’s public hearing hosted by the water agency. The trucking project was hammered out during talks in Occidental last year when Occidental residents rejected a water recycling plan there because of the prohibitive cost.

Trucking the sewage to Guerneville was seen as a stopgap measure that would give Occidental ”breathing room” until a more permanent solution is found, said Stillman.

The meeting in the Monte Rio Community Center was the first real public forum for river residents to weigh in on the transfer plan that was hatched last year as a way to solve Occidental’s inability to find an affordable sewage disposal plan so that the town’s wastewater does not pollute Dutch Bill Creek.

Read more at: River rats castigate county over Occidental sewage trucking | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The “Scenic Route” sign on Highway 12 announces the obvious to motorists heading into the Valley of the Moon. It’s cradled by mountains, dotted with giant oaks, horse ranches, vineyards, remnants of old orchards and the odd water tower.

The road delivers inspiring views of imposing Hood Mountain, its craggy face standing sentinel over a historic route from Santa Rosa to Sonoma that carried stagecoaches and trains before the automobile took over.But today, the two-lane highway is crowded with traffic generated by commuters, residential and commercial development, sightseers and visitors headed to wineries and tasting rooms.

winery map, Sonoma Valley

Winery Expansion on Sonoma Highway 12 (Press Democrat, from Sonoma County PRMD, October 2016.)

The northern arm of Sonoma Valley, between Madrone and Melita roads, is home to more than 40 tasting rooms and event centers that each year attract more than 140,000 people to special events. They could be joined by another half-dozen or more tasting rooms and more than 110 annual special events with 20,000 more people if permits in the pipeline previously approved, but not yet built, are exercised.

The burgeoning wine industry and plans for a high-end luxury hotel, spa and winery off La Campagna Lane in Kenwood have especially drawn attention and opposition while highlighting the impact of development along the county’s busiest wine road.

The growth has set off alarms among rural residents concerned about the loss of agricultural land and the vehicles and noise generated by winery events, especially on weekends. They raise the specter of “Napafication,” the fear that roads will become as clogged as in Napa Valley, where traffic on Highway 29 slows to a long crawl on Saturdays and Sundays when visitors stream to the abundant large corporate-owned wineries.

Read more at: Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Occidental sewage transfer may be stalled by legalities

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES

A county plan to truck Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal appears to be stopped up for now owing to neighborhood opposition and possible legal issues.

Guernewood Park neighbors near the site where sewage would be unloaded at a Russian River Sanitation District pump station met with new Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins last week to vent their concerns about neighborhood truck traffic, potential odors and other compatibility issues if the sewage plan goes forward.

A sympathetic Hopkins told neighbors there may also be a legal problem if proposed pump station improvements, including a new paved driveway under the redwoods at the site, constitute an expansion of the sewer system onto vacant residential property next door.

“I don’t see how we can say that’s not an expansion,” said Hopkins, regarding a proposed new turnaround that sewage trucks would need on the property next to the lift station located between Highway 116 and Riverside Dr.

Sonoma County acquired the neighboring property in the 1980s as part of a legal settlement with the owner; a condition of the sale included an agreement that the county would not expand sewage system operations onto the neighboring property, said Hopkins. The previous owner had a house on the property that was in the path of a prevailing breeze carrying the lift station’s smell. The county demolished the house.

The deed restriction only surfaced last week after neighbors began asking questions about the Occidental sewage transfer plan that seemed to have been formulated with numerous discussions among Occidental Sanitation District residents but little or no dialogue with Guerneville residents whose properties would be impacted by the sewage transfer process involving from five to 15 daily truck deliveries of raw sewage arriving at the Riverside Drive lift station.

A Sonoma County Water Agency environmental review of the plan last year concluded it would have “no significant impact” on the Riverside Drive environment, but neighbors last week said they were never told about the project and are prepared to challenge the environmental finding in court.

Read more at: Occidental sewage transfer may be stalled by legalities – Sonoma West Times and News: News

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation, Water

Guerneville: ‘no thanks’ to Occidental sewage

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES

Guernewood Park residents weren’t exactly crying ‘Oh, thank-you’ this week to a Christmas gift of raw sewage from their Occidental neighbors.

“Totally unacceptable,” said Susan Packer, a Guernewood Park vacation homeowner whose property is on Riverside Drive adjacent to where the County of Sonoma wants to deliver Occidental’s sewage.“

This is a residential neighborhood,” said Packer, writing on the Nextdoor Guernewood Park email site where alarmed neighbors are now talking about the plan, announced two days before Christmas, to truck Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal. “We should not be the repository of Occidental’s problems,” said Packer.

The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) sent notices of the project to Guerneville neighbors two weeks ago describing the project and opening a public review window that closes in two more weeks, at 5 p.m. on Jan. 23. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is expected to give final approval after a public hearing scheduled for March 21.

Some Guernewood Park neighbors say that’s too fast and the rush to bring Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville seems a little hurried considering that Occidental residents have been arguing for more than 20 years about how to dispose of their sewage. One thing Occidental ratepayers agree on is that it’s too expensive to keep the sewage in Occidental when it can be trucked to Guerneville where the town treatment plant operates at about half capacity.

But the abrupt notification and brief public review window are problematic, said Guernewood Park resident Richard Skaff.

“Things have been happening with no public discussion,” said Skaff, who asked newly elected Fifth District supervisor Lynda Hopkins this week to hold a community meeting in Guerneville so that “local residents could hear about the plan and provide you with their thoughts and concerns,” said Skaff, in an email to Hopkins this week.

The Occidental Sanitation District would transport about 15,000 gallons of raw sewage per day to a Russian River Sanitation District lift station sandwiched between Highway 116 and Riverside Drive in Guernewood Park. From there the sewage would be mixed with Guerneville’s sewage and pumped to the River District treatment plant on Neeley Road in Vacation Beach.

The Guerneville Transport Compliance Project would enable Occidental to stop draining its treated wastewater into Dutch Bill Creek in the winter.

Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman Ann DuBay said anyone with questions about the Occidental project should call her for information and guidance on the environmental issues and approval process. Her number is 524-8578.The public review period ends Jan. 23 at 5 p.m. Comments should be submitted to Jeff Church, 404 Aviation Blvd, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 or to jchurch@scwa.ca.gov.

Source: Guerneville: ‘no thanks’ to Occidental sewage – Sonoma West Times and News: News

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

Tension flares between wineries and residents

 Liza B. Zimmerman, WINE SEARCHER

“Right now, there are some areas of severe over-concentration, i.e. Valley of the Moon, West Side Road and Dry Creek Valley in Healdsburg,” notes Padi Selwyn, one of the co-founders of Preserve Rural Sonoma County, an organization advocating to protect the area’s rural character. The County of Sonoma’s general plan had projected 239 wineries in place by the year 2020, yet has approved nearly 500 wineries to date, with more in the pipeline, she adds.

While many wine regions in California have been growing by leaps and bounds, few have developed at the recent pace of Sonoma County.

According to the Santa Rosa, California-based Permit and Resource Development Management Department of Sonoma County, from 2000 to 2015 there was a 300 percent increase in new winery facilities. Sonoma County was home to 127 wineries in 2000 and has nearly 450 now.

More wineries offer a wider spectrum of wine-tasting experiences – food-pairing options and party venues have been attracting more locals, and visitors, along with more traffic and with it sometimes drunk drivers. While winery owners may be thrilled about some of the results, many local residents clearly are not.

The Napa Valley long ago emerged as California’s leading wine region. Careful planning in the region set aside much of the area’s land for agriculture by creating the US’s first Agricultural Preserve in 1968, according to Patsy McGaughy, the St Helena, California-based communications director for the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV).

This pioneering legislation was followed two decades later by the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO), which was enacted in 1990. It has since dictated how many wineries can be open to the public, serve food and number of visitors and events each can host per year.

“The reason Napa became a brand and can command premium value both for wine and for land, pay its workers well and support public services as a result, is because of the genius of the Wine Definition Ordinance, defining wineries as an agricultural use [of the land],” according to Barbara Insel, president and CEO of the Stonebridge Research Group, a wine industry analyst.

While other wine regions have yet to see nearly the same level of consumer interest and have allowed their regions to grow naturally, Santa Barbara hit a snag after the 2004 release of Sideways. The film sent reams of tourists rushing to the area’s wineries and restaurants, and clogged the 5000-resident Danish-themed town of Solvang located in the center of its wine country.

“The tension started after Sideways,” agreed Morgen McLauglin, the executive director or the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association. Locals saw wineries as bringing visitors that clogged roads, caused traffic jams and encouraged drunk drivers. One of the results of that uptick in visitors led to a winery ordinance that the region has been working on for four years. One that McLauglin says is among the most restrictive in terms of the number of tasting rooms permitted.

Read more at: Tension Flares Between Wineries and Residents | Wine News & Features

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County supervisors OK controversial Belden Barns Winery on Sonoma Mountain Road 

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday approved a controversial proposal to develop a winery and creamery on Sonoma Mountain Road, a decision that could draw to an end a two-year battle between Bennett Valley neighbors opposed to the project and the family seeking to launch its new farmstead.

With Tuesday’s 4-1 vote approving the project, Nate and Lauren Belden will be able to build their long-envisioned Belden Barns Winery, producing up to 10,000 cases of wine per year and 10,000 pounds of cheese. And while vineyards line Sonoma Mountain Road, the Beldens’ project would be the first winery on the stretch between Pressley Road to the west and Jack London State Historic Park on the east.

Supervisor Susan Gorin, whose district includes the project, was the sole dissenting vote.

During a heated and sometimes emotional exchange between Gorin and other board members, the two-term supervisor pressed her colleagues to address concerns she shared with a large group of neighbors opposed to the project, including increased traffic on a narrow, winding mountain road and potential threats to public safety, sensitive wildlife habitat and water resources.

“This is truly an amazing project, in the wrong location. The road is very very dangerous, especially at night,” Gorin said at the end of a nearly five-hour public hearing, adding that she is “stunned” the project will move forward despite hazardous road conditions.

“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” Gorin added, before telling her board colleagues that she’d continue pressing for road safety measures, including new signage and turnouts. She raised the possibility of demanding the board approve millions in new funding to reconstruct the entire length of Sonoma Mountain Road.

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors OK controversial Belden Barns Winery on Sonoma Mountain Road | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

Sonoma Valley luxury resort and winery moves forward despite opposition 

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After languishing for more than a decade, a luxury hotel resort and winery in Kenwood is again moving forward, bolstered by new owners and prior approval from the county that appears to pave the way for construction.

The 50-room hotel on a plateau overlooking the Valley of the Moon — along with a luxury spa, 125-seat restaurant and small winery — was the subject of a bruising land-use fight a dozen years ago before being stalled further by the recession.

To opponents, the Resort at Sonoma Country Inn, as it’s now dubbed, epitomizes the steady onslaught of new wineries, tasting rooms and events that are changing the face of the picturesque valley, piling more cars on to busy Highway 12, which averages more than 18,000 vehicles per day in Kenwood, according to state traffic counts.

“It is something that is going to have an impact for sure,” said Kathy Pons, president of Valley of the Moon Alliance, a community group. She worries not only about traffic, but the hillside resort’s visibility and light emanating from it at night.

Read more: Sonoma Valley luxury resort and winery moves forward despite opposition | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Transportation

Belden Barns environmental review questioned

Alec Peters, THE KENWOOD PRESS

At a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, some residents of Sonoma Mountain Road challenged the findings and analysis of a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) prepared for the Belden Barns winery and creamery project.

The Belden Barns development proposal, the first of its kind on Sonoma Mountain Road, is asking the county for a use permit for a facility that would process 10,000 cases of wine and 10,000 pounds of cheese. There would be public retail sales and by appointment tastings, and eight agricultural promotional events a year with 60-200 attendees.

Current structures on the property would be torn down, and 15,851 square feet of new buildings would be constructed – a production facility, tasting room, and employee housing unit.

The 55-acre property is located at 5561 Sonoma Mountain Road, about one and a half miles east of the Pressley Road/Sonoma Mountain Road intersection.

The voluminous DEIR concluded that any environmental impacts could be reduced to a “less than significant level” with the implementation of mitigation measures, a finding that speakers at the July 19 Board of Supervisors meeting took issue with.

Specifically, speakers said that no efforts could mitigate the road safety issues on Sonoma Mountain Road, a 7.5-mile, two-lane road that is narrow and windy in places, and considered one of the worst roads in Sonoma County.

In addition, some speakers questioned the hydrology analysis of the DEIR and whether it accurately represented the project’s impacts on nearby water sources.

Also discussed by the public and board was the DEIR’s analysis of alternatives to the project as proposed, including eliminating the tasting room or having it be off-site, such as in Santa Rosa or Rohnert Park. Another alternative under review is one that eliminates the events component.

Throughout the entire time since the Belden Barns first filed their use permit request in 2012, a number of neighbors have been concerned about future development in the Sonoma Mountain Road area if Belden Barns was approved. Those concerns were voiced again at the July 19 hearing.

“Please keep in mind there are 16 vineyards in the immediate area that are in line to follow the Beldens,” said Donna Parker, who lives right across from Belden Barns. “And why not? They can make more money right where they are. So the precedent setting nature of this proposal cannot be ignored.”

The hearing on the DEIR was held to receive oral comments on the document. County planners and an environmental consultant have been receiving written comments as well. The next step involves responding to all the comments and bringing a final EIR back in front of the Board of Supervisor, who at that time will consider the overall merits of the project as well, likely this Fall.

That hearing will mark the second time the Board of Supervisors has been asked to approve the Belden Barns Project. By a 4-1 vote in November of 2014, the board approved the project. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin voted against issuing the use permit.

A group of Sonoma Mountain road residents, the Friends of Sonoma Mountain, soon filed a lawsuit against the county. In June of 2015, a settlement was reached, which required that an EIR be conducted. The settlement set aside the board’s initial approval of the project and dismissed the lawsuit “with prejudice,” a legal term barring Friends of Sonoma Mountain from suing again on the same claims.

Source: The Kenwood Press – Belden Barns environmental review questioned

Filed under Land Use

Sonoma County limits on wine industry in the works

Padi Selwyn and Judith Olney, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

With 447 wineries and tasting rooms outside city limits with 60 more in the pipeline, we have reached a tipping point. Since 2000, there has been a 300% increase in the number of wineries built, exceeding the General Plan assumption of 239 wineries by 2020.

More info at preserveruralsonomacounty.org

Last month’s winery events study session by the Board of Supervisors was a step in the right direction, as local officials try to balance wine industry interests with a growing backlash by concerned citizens. Property owners expressed concerns that environmental degradation, unruly crowds, loud noise, traffic safety issues and congestion on narrow roads are destroying tranquil rural character and contributing to the Napafication of Sonoma County.

But it’s clear that this is going to be a long process, with new ordinances projected for by Spring 2017. There are many more meetings to be held, and input by the Planning Commission needed. Meanwhile, the wine industry continues lobbying for fewer restrictions, while the overflow crowd of concerned citizens in attendance sent a clear message to county officials that it’s time to rein in winery development and limit the number of promotional events.

As an example, the wine industry continues to advocate that the county categorize events by attendees or by sponsor. Unfortunately, merely labeling a dinner-dance as a “distributor meeting” does not reduce the noise, long duration drinking, or the potential of impaired drivers on rural one-lane roads. This re-naming of high impact promotional and hospitality uses – such as winemaker lunches or dinners – as “tasting room or business activities”, is a thinly veiled attempt to exempt these events, food service and accommodations from environmental review and use permit conditions required to reduce the impacts to less than significant.

Read more at: Sonoma County Limits on Wine Industry in the Works

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Transportation